New Questions over CIA Nominee Brennan’s Denial of Civilian Drone Deaths

Claims by the Central Intelligence Agency’s new director-designate that the US intelligence services received ‘no information’ about any civilians killed by US drones in the year prior to June 2011 do not appear to bear scrutiny.

Obama’s CIA choice. But Brennan civilian death claims raise issues. (White House/ Pete Souza) John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to take over the CIA, had claimed in a major speech in summer 2011 that there had not been ‘a single collateral death’ in a covert US strike in the past year due to the precision of drones. He later qualified his statement, saying that at the time of his comments he had ‘no information’ to the contrary.

Yet just three months beforehand, a major US drone strike had killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians. As well as being widely reported by the media at the time, Islamabad’s concerns regarding those deaths were also directly conveyed to the ‘highest levels of the Administration’ by Washington’s then-ambassador to Pakistan, it has been confirmed to the Bureau.

This confirmation suggests that senior US officials were aware of dozens of civilian deaths just weeks before Brennan’s claims to the contrary.

Jirga deaths

The CIA drone strike in Pakistan on March 17, which bombed the town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan and killed an estimated 42 people, has always seemed a contradiction of Brennan’s official statement.
The attack was later justified by an anonymous US official as a so-called ‘signature strike’ where the identities of those killed was unknown. They insisted that ‘a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ-linked militants, were killed.’

In fact the gathering was a jirga, or tribal meeting, called to resolve a local mining dispute. Dozens of tribal elders and local policemen died, along with a small number of Taliban.

Within hours of the attack Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief publicly condemned the mass killing of dozens of civilians. Pakistan’s president also later protested about the strike to a visiting delegation from the US House Armed Services Committee, led by Congressman Rob Wittman.

An official Pakistani government document issued at the time reports that Washington’s then-ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on March 18 for a dressing-down.
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